When Bilal takes the stage at the El Rey Theatre tomorrow night, only those sexing during the height of the Soulquarian days will remember the groovy, dreaded crooner sighing in the ears of a bevy of naked ebony beauties in the 2001 "Soul Sista" video.
Gone are the dreads, and the Philadelphia singer ventured into more emotionally introspective and musically experimental territory with his latest release, last year's Airtight's Revenge. Still, as we found out, he gets awfully sweaty live, and like the jams at the jazz clubs he frequented growing up, he can go all night.
In his honor, then, the top five grown-n-sexy neo soul videos.
5. Van Hunt
"Down Here in Hell (With You)," 2004
This bleached out video is a sleeper, but even if it weren't sexy, Van Hunt deserves to be here based on having a fight, instead of flight, instinct. Bonus points for a man who prefers delayed gratification: "Wanna be unsatisfied, so you can feel the heat comin' from me." In one of those cinematic moves that likely looks a lot sexier than it is in reality, Van Hunt plays the guitar between his girlfriend's thighs. Good thing they got in the shower after that; we were hot.
"The Light," 2000
Common technically isn't in the neo soul genre, but being the goddess of
neo soul's lover automatically earns you a spot on this list. The Nzingha Stewart-directed video for probably the greatest hip-hop love song of all time (toss up between it, Blu's "No Greater Love," and Meth/Mary's thug-love anthem, "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By") has a simple concept, a quietly domestic life. But by intentionally keeping the action passive, the saturated colors and highlighted objects--a mango, striped toe socks, a lava lamp--leap off the screen and show, not tell, the vividness of their love affair. Wild flings may be fun, but deep down, real sexiness is a man watching over you as you sleep.
3. Lauryn Hill
If you were in high school or college during 1998, Lauryn Hill's "Ex-Factor" probably reminds you of a bad break-up. Rumored to be based on her relationship with Wyclef Jean, the song hits almost too close to home to be comfortable. Have eyes ever pleaded like Hill's do in this clip when she sings, "As painful as this thing has been, I just can't be with no one else"? But pain can be exquisitely pleasurable, and this, directed by Malik Hassan Sayeed, may be the most gorgeous on a list of gorgeous videos.
2. Erykah Badu
"Other Side of the Game," 1997
Of course she showed up again, of course with a different rapper: As we saw last weekend at her Rock the Bells performance, Erykah Badu is well aware of her reputation as rapper muse. In this self-directed video, she struggles with the possible consequences of being with a man who has a "complex occupation" (played by her at-the-time real-life lover, Andre 3000, who's never looked better than he does here). If there were a yearbook category for coolest couple, these two would win.
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"Untitled (How Does It Feel)," 2000
If we had known this video would be at least partly to blame for D'Angelo's absence from music, we would he never had made it. After his manager at the time proposed the concept, he followed an intense workout regimen (go re-watch the video for "Lady") because he was anxious about being nude on camera. Though the Paul Hunter-directed video did its job--transfix millions of women to this very day--the introverted singer hated that focus shifted to his physique.
The visual has been discussed to death (we bet there have been dissertations written on it), but we still can't tear our eyes away even 11 years later, and not just in the hope that maybe this time, the camera will dip a little lower. No, it's the rare occasion of a performer with the talent and charisma to captivate with literally no props nor backdrops. No one man should have all that power? Sadly, D'Angelo agreed.